SITTING and playing video games for hours on end has not often been viewed as a positive habit. in June, however, a group of professional racers and gamers will make an endurance sport out of it, as the iconic 24 hours of Le Mans goes virtual.
The annual event, which makes up part of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) has, like all motorsport events, been adversely affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Originally scheduled to take place on June 13-14, the endurance race is now postponed to September 19-20, with (albeit loosened) lockdown restrictions still in place in France.
The virtual race, a collaboration between the FIA, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (the organiser of the 24 hours of Le Mans) and Motorsport Games, will occur on the same day that the real race was originally planned to take place, and will use the rFactor 2 PC game as a platform. It will be broadcast live, but there hasn’t yet been confirmation about where. If it’s anything like other virtual races, though, you should be able to watch on YouTube.
Teams must comprise at least two professional drivers, and can include a maximum of two sim racers. Driver changes are compulsory, and one driver can do a maximum of seven hours during the race. They must, however, be behind the virtual wheel for at least four hours. The grid will be made up of no more than 50 cars – a 10 car reduction on the number that took part in the real event last year.
Teams are allowed to use LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype two) cars, which have 4.2-litre V8s, and GTE cars, which include cars derived from road models. Last year’s GTE class winner, the Ferrari 488 GTE, had a twin-turbo V8 mustering around 600bhp. Teams are free to create their own livery for the cars.
Organisers are evidently working to make the event as realistic as possible, with variable weather conditions across daytime and nighttime. Tyre changing and refuelling are also essential, and damaged cars can be repaired in the pits. Teams are encouraged to create their own setups for higher performance, and the WEC is making sure that strategy remains a core principle.
Similarly to F1, whose virtual series heads to a simulated version of Monaco this weekend, the race will be presented as a real race would be – from a studio in Paris, in Le Mans’ case – with commentators and pit reporters covering the race itself.
Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, said: “This first edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual opens a new chapter for our discipline.” He continued: “On 13/14th June, the initial date of our event, there will be a unique event augmenting endurance racing and its values: the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, with professional drivers and specialists esports gamers racing together.
“For us, the organisers, for our competitors, our partner and our fans, we are now impatiently waiting for the start of this unique race.”
The virtual 24 hours of Le Mans will take place on June 13, at 3pm French time – 2pm in the UK.